The summer games settlin.., p.12
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.12

           R.S. Grey
 
I ran to the table and ripped the phone out of their hands so fast, I nearly took Becca’s finger with it.

  “No!” I held the phone up above my head so they couldn’t get to it. “No Tinder profiles. I don’t need to sleep with a random athlete to feel better. Ugh! I’m fine!”

  Kinsley turned to Becca. “Hmm. Better add ‘cranky’ after ‘desperate’.”

  EVERY ATHLETE WAS expected to meet in the lobby by 9:00 AM so we could locate our rendezvous point and get placed on buses that would take us to the stadium for the opening ceremonies. It sounded like an easy task, but we had to wait for an elevator on our floor for ten minutes, and when one finally arrived, it was already filled with athletes.

  “C’mon, let’s take the stairs,” Kinsley said, leading us toward a side stairwell where we joined the crowd of people making their way to the first floor.

  “OUT OF THE WALKWAY!” shouted a woman standing on top of a chair off to the side of the lobby. She was trying to convince a group of British guys to move and clear a path for people to walk. They’d taken up residence right at the foot of the stairs so that even if we wanted to join the athletes from our country, we couldn’t.

  “American athletes move to the left of the rope! Great Britain to the right!” the woman shouted again, trying to amplify her voice with a piece of rolled up paper. Most everyone completely ignored her. They were rowdy and excited to see the friends they’d made during the last Olympic games. Whoever thought amassing a couple hundred athletes in one lobby was a good idea should have been fired.

  “American athletes, your busses will leave first! Please find your group and make sure you have your badges with you or you won’t be allowed into the stadium for the ceremonies!”

  Kinsley dragged me past a group of guys pulling flasks out of their red jumpsuits. (I guessed Lorena had been on to something with all the pockets.)

  “Here’s to being drunk for the entire Parade of Nations,” one of the guys proclaimed. His buddies laughed and leaned forward to clink their flasks against his. I watched in awe as they all took long swigs. Weren’t they worried about looking drunk on TV?

  “C’mon,” Kinsley said, drawing my attention back to the pathway she was trying to make. I let her pull me through, ignoring the groans from the people she was brushing out of the way.

  “Where you goin’ girls?” one guy asked. “Party’s right here.”

  Kinsley flashed her ring. “I’ve already got a party of two.”

  “Boo,” he said, waving his hand and moving on to his next conquest.

  That’s when I first saw Freddie. He was on the opposite side of the lobby, standing on a small staircase that separated the sunken lobby from the hallway that led to the food court. He stood up on the third stair, leaning back against the railing. There were other British athletes around him, talking and joking, but he seemed uninterested, surveying the crowd instead.

  I’d seen him in suits, workout clothes, and dressed down in jeans, but seeing Frederick Archibald standing there in his opening ceremonies outfit was physically painful. They’d put him in a tight navy sweater and matching slacks. On everyone else, the outfit looked foolish, but his broad shoulders and strong arms filled out the sweater too easily, making it fit like it’d been designed with exactly his body type in mind.

  His medium-length hair was brushed back in one of those GQ cover styles. He’d just shaved and I visually inhaled the sight of his strong jaw, committing it to memory as best as possible before his gaze landed on me in the crowd.

  Fuck. He’d caught me staring at him.

  My breath caught in my throat and though I wanted to, I couldn’t look away.

  “Andie?” Kinsley asked.

  Someone walked in front of me, cutting us off for a moment, but when they moved, he was still there, watching me from across the room. There was no smile playing on his lips, no hint of friendship, just those caramel brown eyes assessing me coolly. I hated his beauty. I hated the way his attention made my heart race and my palms sweat. I could tell myself to look away, but deep down, I knew that until he was done with me, I’d never be done with him.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  Freddie

  “YOU LOOKED LIKE a knob in that outfit last night.”

  I groaned. “Georgie, it’s too early in the morning for your sarcasm.”

  “I’m telling the truth. Who designed those things anyway? Why can’t they just put you in a pair of normal trousers?”

  “Did you and Mum watch the whole thing?”

  “She did. I got bored after a few minutes. I did stick around long enough to see this Andie of yours carry the flag for the Yanks though.”

  “And?”

  “And she is quite pretty.”

  I wiped the sleep from my eyes.

  “How’s that progressing by the way?”

  “Terribly.”

  “That’s because you looked like a knob. No American girl wants a man who wears sweaters. You’ve probably gone and scared her off.”

  “Is this why you’ve phoned me, Georgie? To torment me?”

  She sighed. “No. I overheard your conversation with Mum earlier.”

  I waited for her to continue.

  “Are you seriously considering scuttling the betrothal?”

  “More than serious. I’ve made my mind up. I don’t want to marry Caroline.”

  “Because you’re gaga over this American footballer?”

  Yes.

  “No, it’s because I’ve never wanted to marry Caroline, and I shouldn’t go through with a marriage only to fulfill some antiquated notion of familial responsibility.”

  “Won’t Caroline’s family be cross?”

  “I don’t really care. If Henry’s death taught me anything, it’s that life is too short to worry about upsetting people—especially when you’re doing what’s right.”

  “Well, Mum explained to me why it’s important for you to marry Caroline, how good it’ll be for the family, but I agree with you. Caroline is such a bore, Freddie. I’d go mad if I had her as a sister-in-law for the rest of my life.”

  I smiled. “So you’re on my side?”

  “’Course. Well, except about the sweater. You really ought to burn that thing.”

  “I think Andie liked it. She stared at me when she first saw me in the lobby downstairs.”

  She laughed. “Yes, Fred. She was probably concerned that you’d lost your mind wearing a thing like that.”

  A fist pounded against my door before I could reply.

  “Freddie open up,” Thom shouted. “I’ve prepared a lovely breakfast for you, including all the crispy bacon, so stop being a mope and get out here.”

  I shoved off the bed and opened the door for Thom.

  “I’m talking to Georgie, not moping.”

  “He’s moping!” Georgie yelled through the phone loud enough for Thom to hear.

  “’Ello Georgie,” Thom said, trying to take the phone from my hand. “Goodbye Georgie.”

  “Not yet, mate.” I stepped back out of his reach. “She’s advising me.”

  “When’s she coming to Rio?” he asked, ignoring me.

  “Next week!” Georgia yelled back.

  I worked the door out of his hand and tried to shut it.

  “And she’s not hanging out with you,” I said just before shutting the door in his face.

  “Fine, I’ll leave, but I’m eating ALL THE CRISPY BACON.”

  “You really ought to be nicer to him,” Georgie said once I’d shut the door and turned back to find a clean pair of workout shorts. “He’s the only one who can stand you during competition, and it wouldn’t do you any favors if you scared him off.”

  “I have loads of friends.”

  “Your eighteen-year-old sis doesn’t count.”

  I laughed and checked the time on my watch where it sat on the bedside table. I had twenty minutes before practice, which meant I needed to get a move on.

  “Don’t discredit yourself, Georgie. You’re just as
good as any of my mates. Nearly as hairy, too.”

  “Ha ha, very funny, Fred. I’ll have you know I’ve morphed into quite a beauty since you’ve gone. Can’t walk down the street with all the drivers crashing from craning their necks.”

  I laughed.

  “Now piss off and DON’T mention the whole betrothal thing to Mum again. She’s going mad over here. Wait ’til I’ve arrived in Rio and we’ll get it sorted.”

  I agreed and hung up, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d manage. It’d been one day since I’d nearly had my wicked way with Andie in the bathroom at the cocktail party. Keeping my distance for the remainder of the party and then again during the opening ceremonies was testing my patience in new and unusual ways. I’d already replayed every encounter we’d had in my mind and a bloke can only wank it so many times before it starts to feel shameful.

  I’d nearly texted her the night before after returning from the opening ceremonies. It was late and I was missing her, wondering if she’d had a good time carrying the flag. I’d tried to find her during the Parade of Nations, but Great Britain and the United States were separated by too many countries to make it possible.

  “Mate, honestly,” Thom shouted. “Come get this bacon or I’m going to chuck it out the window.”

  I laughed and walked out into the living room to find Thom standing at the open window, ready to haul the bacon out onto unsuspecting pedestrians. I yanked the pan out of his hand and plated it beside the eggs he’d made as well.

  “We’ve got practice in fifteen and then afternoon workout after,” he said, reading our team’s itinerary off his phone.

  I shook my head. “I’ve talked it over with Coach already. I’m going to work out this evening instead.”

  He glanced up. “What? Why?”

  “There’s a soccer match I want to attend.”

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  Andie

  I COULDN’T SLEEP the night before our first game. I’d lain in bed worrying about my wrist and wishing the dull ache would go away on its own. I was nervous about the game. I could stop a ball like no other woman in America, but I didn’t trust my wrist. I knew that at any time, my sprain could take a turn and I’d be benched, or worse. I tried to find a sleeping position that offered some comfort, but in the end, I’d lain like a mummy staring up at the ceiling, willing sleep to take me.

  When the alarm beside my bed blared three annoying chimes at 6:30 AM, I threw off my blankets with a plan. I’d take three Advil and have the trainer compress my wrist even tighter than usual. It needed to be secure if I was expected to stop balls hurtling toward me at 60 mph. I didn’t care about the pain¸ but I wanted my mind clear and focused.

  I was sitting up on the trainer’s table when I glanced to the section in the stands where the Olympic Committee had placed the athletes. It was expected that athletes from different sports would show up to support one another in different events, to the extent that the TV channels demanded they be squashed together. Thus, with one quick pan of the camera, viewers at home could see them all—including Freddie Archibald—at once. He was wedged in between a few other athletes in the front row, sporting a neutral white button-down and jeans. When he saw me glance over, he smiled.

  “What are you doing here?” I mouthed. My words were mixed with savvy hand gestures, and after two more tries, he finally understood my question.

  He pointed to me with a shrug. I was too far away to make out his dimples, but his smile sent a warm swell through me, momentarily numbing my nerves. My family was a million miles away and the only friends I had in Rio were about to take the field with me. Except Freddie. The stands were packed with screaming fans, but Freddie was the only person there for me.

  “Good luck,” he mouthed with a thumbs up.

  I nodded. “Thanks.”

  HE WAS GONE by the time the game ended and I walked off the field sweaty, bone-tired, and cradling my wrist. Adrenaline proved to be the best drug for the pain, but I knew once the shock of our first victory wore off, I’d be in a world of hurt. I stood over the trashcan near the trainer’s table, slowly unwrapping the tape between long swallows of my sports drink.

  “Good game,” Liam said, patting my shoulder as he trailed behind Coach Decker. Kinsley and Becca were right behind him, but they waited until I’d finished unwrapping my wrist before the three of us walked out of the stadium. We looked like a bunch of zombies, and we definitely smelled like them. My jersey stuck to my skin, and though I tried to pry it away, nothing seemed to help.

  Once I returned to the condo, I called my mom and tried to recount the entire game as best as possible, but my heart was still racing and my delivery was choppy.

  “Your father and I watched the whole thing, sweetie. You played so well.”

  “Thanks. The crowd here in Rio was the loudest I’ve ever heard.”

  “Oh! Speaking of the crowd, you’ll never guess who we saw in the stands!”

  I already knew the answer, but I humored her nonetheless. “Who?”

  “The duke! Frederick Archibald! Can you believe it? Your meemaw said everyone on the news was speculating about why he was there. It would have made sense if you were playing Great Britain, but he must have been there to watch a friend or something. I swear the cameras showed him nearly as much as they showed the game.”

  “Maybe he just likes soccer,” I offered.

  She hummed. “Maybe, but he could have just watched it on the CBS.”

  I smiled. “Listen, I need to shower. I’m about to lose consciousness from my own stench.”

  I promised I’d call her again the next day and she promised to watch the news for any mention of Frederick’s attendance. After I hung up, I stripped off my jersey and threw it into my dirty clothes hamper. I went into the bathroom and turned the shower on as hot as it would go, feeling my muscles starting to ache from the game. There’d been a few hard blocks and diving saves. I could already feel the bruises forming as I rubbed my hands down my arms, massaging the muscles as I went. I stepped into the shower, wincing at the temperature, but left it there nonetheless. The water beat down my back as I rolled my neck and shoulders out. My wrist was a little swollen and tender to the touch, so I left it by my side and shampooed my hair with my other hand, lathering up twice before sliding it down to the rest of my body.

  I stayed in the shower longer than necessary, replacing my sweat with the more subtle scent of lavender. I thought over the game, dissecting the few mistakes we’d made.

  Once the water had all but cooled, I stepped out and reached for my towel. My phone was sitting on the bathroom sink and as I walked by, it buzzed with an incoming call. I glanced over and my heart dropped when Freddie’s number lit up across the screen.

  I’d been in denial about wanting to reach out to him. He’d gone out of his way to come to my first game, and even though I’d told him to stay away, it meant a lot knowing I’d had someone there rooting for me. That’s why I swiped my finger across the screen to answer his call, or so I told myself.

  “Andie,” he said, as if surprised I’d answered.

  “Hi.”

  “Have I caught you at a bad time?”

  My eyes flitted around the room. “I just stepped out of the shower.”

  “Andie.”

  My cheeks flamed. Stupid. “Um…that wasn’t supposed to sound as porny as it did, it’s just the truth.”

  “Have you still got your towel on?”

  “Freddie…”

  “I’m just curious.” I could tell he was smiling.

  “I’m getting my clothes on right now.”

  “I’d rather you didn’t.”

  I inhaled a shaky breath. “Freddie. Why did you call?”

  He sighed. “I want to know how the last few minutes of the game went. I had to leave to make it to my evening workout.”

  “We won.”

  “Good.”

  “Did your workout go well?”

  He chuckled. “Brilliantly. Could’ve u
sed a spotter.”

  “Right, well…” I said, eyeing myself in the mirror. My long hair fell down my back, in desperate need of a good brushing. My full lips were parted and my eyes were wide and curious. “I need to go now.”

  “You’re lying. I can tell.”

  I rolled my eyes. “I’m not lying. I need to ice my wrist and put clothes on and generally ignore you.”

  “Stop saying you need to put clothes on.”

  “Well I do.”

  He sighed.

  “Why’d you really call, Freddie?”

  “I already told you.”

  I tightened my towel around my chest. “You could have watched the highlights on the news.”

  “Maybe I wanted to hear your voice then.”

  I avoided my reflection in my mirror.

  He sounded so sincere. I hated that he sounded sincere; it only made the fight harder.

  “I told you to stay away from me.”

  “I remember.”

  Silence.

  “My brain can’t keep up with you, Freddie,” I said, turning away from the mirror. “You push me away one minute and then you show up at my game as if everything is okay and it’s not.”

  “I know.”

  “This whole thing is too confusing for me to handle right now. I’m in the middle of the Olympics for God’s sake—”

  “I’m not going to stay away from you, Andie.”

  The way he said my name sent a subtle shiver down my spine. His voice came across differently on the phone, a little more seductive and demanding.

  “I need to hang up now.”

  “Lie down on your bed.”

  My stomach flipped.

  Silence.

  “Did you hear me? I want you to lie down on your bed.”

  “It hurt when you pushed me out of that bathroom, Freddie.”

  “I know, and I want to make it up to you,” he continued, undeterred. “Lie down on your bed.”

  I stepped into my room and eyed my tangled sheets. I wasn’t going to lay down, I knew that. So then why am I stepping closer?

 
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